I see a bright shaft of light.
It penetrates into me. It engulfs my entire being with its vibrancy. It dulls the ache that I have been carrying in my gut ever since I can remember.
It is always the same dream. Each time towards the break of dawn. Every time the same feeling of peace.
I have pondered much about it. I have asked everyone I could think of about what it means, starting with my mother and all the learned men who passed through my land. The closest I came to getting an answer for what seemed like more as mollification to my incessant questioning was from father’s cousin – Achyutha.
“The answer shall be revealed to you when it’s the right time.”
When the right time was, or how soon it was, he never bothered to expound on it. I put the dream out of my mind, suppressed the dull ache inside of me, and went about my life. And there was nothing that I could about this, now that he had told me to wait. Apparently, self-restraint was something I had to learn yet.
HE was always like that. Enigmatic. Pragmatic. Possessor of many epithets.
Out of all his monikers, my favorite was Achyutha. Meaning the infallible. In my eyes, there was nothing that he did not know and nothing that he could not do. Achyutha was someone I looked up to a lot. He was a father figure and brother all rolled into one.
My father was Bheemasena. Son of the wind god. I had very few chances of spending time with my father who visited us very rarely. Hidimbavana where I grew up was called so after my mother who was reigning queen of the forest. It was a place that humans rarely frequented. My mother, Hidimbaa, brought me up on a steady diet of stories about his valor and prowess. How he vanquished her brother Hidimba, and usurped her heart. How a single shout from him could stun the living daylights out of most living things. Those rare instances that he visited us in the forest, he used to regale me with stories, about the clan that I was a part of, about far-flung lands where evil was wreaking havoc, about his cousins and how they were making things difficult for all of us. These occasional visits always left me craving for more. Sometimes, he brought his brothers along. Those days were fun. I learnt a lot as I was growing up, training with father and uncles, listening to old anecdotes some of which centered on my birth and their experiences in the forests.
Out of all the tales that I heard, my favorite one was the one about my birth. Father told me, rubbing my pate affectionately that they had named me Ghatotkacha because of the round bald pot-like head that I sported. My uncle Arjuna told me how stunned all were when I became an almost full-grown child within the span of a few minutes owing of the rakshasa blood in me. He remarked how they had to use an arrow casing to cut off the umbilical cord because of how strong and thick it was. I liked that story the best of all. It made me proud of how strong I was and filled me with a sense of superiority. I remember commenting to Achyutha that the dull gnawing in my stomach was probably because of the arrow casing they used. He would look at me in a strange way and then pull my leg saying that it was probably because of hunger and tease me calling me a glutton. Momentary though it was, I could never discern what that gleam in his eyes was.
My life in the forest passed quite uneventfully, except for these rare bouts of our family get-togethers. When I matured into a full-grown rakshasa, mother handed over the rule of the forest to me. She only gave me a very crucial piece of advice. To always, serve my father, regardless of what he asked me to do. She secured a promise from me that I would always attend to my father’s summons any time, whenever he thought of me irrespective of day or night. I only received his summons twice ever in my life. Once when he and his brothers, along with grandmother Kunti and Draupadi ma, were on a forest pilgrimage and stranded upon a mountain, tired from the journey.
The other, during the war at Kurukshetra.
The second time I sensed my father’s summons, I remember my mother eyeing at me with a look akin to apprehension upon her striking features. I asked her what was worrying her and she said that I was at last going to receive answers to my queries. It filled me with a sense of foreboding, yet as I took leave of her, I fell at her feet seeking her blessings. She blessed me that my fame and recognition would spread far and wide because of my abilities on the field. I kissed my son and wife, and left them to the protection of my clan and proceeded to answer my father’s summons.
Kurukshetra was a place like none other. I fumed as I stood on the battlefield and surveyed the damage wrought by kin and brethren upon each other. My entire being filled with rage as I saw the amount of destruction that was lying in front of my eyes. I saw my eldest uncle, whose favorite I was, slumped in his chariot, unable to see the carnage. I saw my cousin’s frail body, elegant even in death, held by Arjuna, seemingly stunned at the demise of his progeny. I then saw my father. He was looking up at me. I saw in his eyes a fear and a worry for having brought me in to the field. I sensed in him the burden that he was forced to bear seeking for my support yet fearing for my life much like Abhimanyu’s. Then quite suddenly, I felt a calming presence next to me. I turned to see Achyutha, standing beside me, his eyes filled with tears. In all my life, I had never seen HIM like this. For once, he seemed at a loss for words. Yet I knew what he wanted to say. For once, I knew his words even before he spoke them.
It was turning dark. The sun had gone down and now it was time for the first son of the Pandavas to take the limelight. I grew to my full size, summoned all my powers and started smashing the Kaurava army to smithereens. I spared no man and no beast. I turned savage, calling upon the rakshasa blood in me.
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And then I saw him. Scion of Surya. Holding in his hands the arrow that was destined to destroy the hopes of the Pandavas. The one that Karna was saving for Arjuna, Indra’s weapon, the Shakti.
I glanced at Achyutha. I saw that his eyes were downcast; his shoulders slumped with the agony of what was in his mind. He sensed me eyeing him, looked up at me and raised his hands in a benevolent gesture.
I nodded my head to show that I understood. I had no regrets. If this was what my Achyutha wanted for me, I would gladly take it, no questions asked.
I heard the twang of Karna’s bow and saw him fitting the arrow to it.
I expected to see death staring at my face, but to my surprise, I felt a tug in my gut. This was it. I knew. My moment of truth.
I have saved the Pandavas and my clan from imminent defeat. I have left my mark on this world and this battlefield. I sent a silent thought to my mother, wife and my son, looked up to the heavens, grew to the most gargantuan size that I could muster and turned to face my adversary.
I see the Shakti in all its glory. It is now a bright shaft of light. It seeks to permeate me. It strives to dull the ache in my gut.
Over the horizon, I see the sun starting his ascent. The streak of dawn is now a vivid orange.
The shaft found its mark and its energy engulfed me.
Somewhere I heard HIS voice;
“The casing that Arjuna used when you were born belonged to the arrow. Try as we did, we could not stop it from entering your navel when we cut off the umbilical cord. The arrow has found its home at last. This is how it was to be. This is how it is supposed to conclude.”
I smiled. I had now gotten the answers to my incessant questions.
Finally, I am at peace.